Future PR LeadersBy Gini Dietrich

I was just taking a gander through my SmartBrief newsletters and came upon The Five Necessary Traits of Future Leaders.

Totally something up my alley, I clicked over to Webber Kerr (an executive search firm) to see what they are predicting for the future.

In it, the author describes the five following traits:

  1. Self-awareness;
  2. Fraternal;
  3. Versatile;
  4. Culturally diverse; and
  5. Time-attentive.

Of course, I began to think about these five traits, from the perspective of the PR industry and what it means if we (the collective we) don’t evolve.

But first, let me tell you a story.

Risk Outweighs Reward

Last week, we hosted Robert Phillips, the author of Trust Me, PR is Dead, on our author Q&A.

It was one of my personal favorite Q&As this year because he, like me, is adamant the industry must change.

So much so, in fact, that he quit his CEO of Europe, the Middle East, and Africa at Edelman because he wasn’t seeing evolution as quickly as he wanted.

At the start of the book, he tells the story of being in Chicago (where Edelman is headquartered) to meet with the executive team and Richard Edelman.

As he tells this story, I envision them walking down State Street, crossing the river, after dinner. They are so involved in their conversation, they stop near a park bench to give one another their full and undivided attention.

Robert tells Richard that the industry—and Edelman—need to evolve.

Richard agrees, but says something that makes Robert realize it’s time for him to leave the company: He says it would take six years and an unwittingly expense to evolve the agency and he just wasn’t willing to do that right then. And, of course, clients weren’t forcing the change, so why do it?

We are beholden to a profit and loss statement. Cash is king. You can’t make payroll if you don’t have paying clients.

I get all of that.

But sometimes the risk outweighs the reward and it sets you up for future growth rather than falling headfirst off a cliff.

The Five Traits of Future PR Leaders

As an industry, we have to think about what the future holds and, not just the traits of our future PR leaders, but the traits of our organizations.

Let’s go back to the five traits Webber Kerr outlined.

  1. Self-awareness. The PR firm of the future must be willing to do its own PR. I know, I know. The cobbler’s children and all of that. But the younger generations are already in the spotlight so young, thanks to social media (how often have you thought, “Man, I’m glad Facebook didn’t exist when I was in college!”?), that every action leads to the future. If the PR firm of the future—and its future PR leaders, by default—does its own PR, it will be self-aware enough to know how the actions of today affect the growth of tomorrow. In November of 2013, we set an internal goal to no longer work with companies that don’t see communications the way we do. Because of that, just a month ago, I turned down a huge opportunity to work with a business that fits perfectly in our manufacturing niche because they only want to hire a PR firm for media relations. It would have been easy work and very lucrative, but it doesn’t fit our model of the future. That’s being self-aware, no matter how painful it is.
  2. Fraternal. People often are surprised that Arment Dietrich is 10-years-old and not a start-up because the organization is relatively flat and I still roll up my sleeves to do some of the work (not all, mind you, I do still have a business to run). We also are virtual and have employees from San Francisco to Maine into Canada and Spain (that rhymed!), which is still very futuristic. The future PR leaders will have businesses that compete with the Edelmans of the world because they are willing to take the risk to shift with changing technology. They will require the big firms to make shifts to compete.
  3. Versatile. This goes back to being virtual. We can work anywhere, any time. I like to tell the story of how I can now hire anyone, anywhere, who is best for the job. Ten years ago, I would have had to move those people to Chicago. In some cases, I would have had to support their work Visas. Both impossible for a small business to do. But today, I can compete with any global firm because our virtual organization and culture allows us to work the best and brightest, no matter where they are in the world. Being versatile will be imperative for the future PR leaders…and that’s almost too big a change for the global PR firms to make now. It will be up to the fraternal and versatile smaller firms to lead the industry.
  4. Culturally diverse. I have been watching Chef’s Table on Netflix. It’s a show that follows six world-renowned chefs through their climb to the top. The very first chef they showcase is Massimo Bottura who runs Osteria Francescana in Modena, Italy. What’s interesting about Massimo is no one has heard of Modena. It’s sort of between Milan and Bologna. You wouldn’t know its there, unless you were driving from one city to the other and your car broke down. But Massimo has made it famous because he left. He left to go to New York City. And then he want to Paris. This is what the future PR leaders must do, too. Real diversity comes from life experience and from having traveled, lived, studied, or worked in different cultures. Doing this will allow the future PR leaders to have a global view without being overwhelmed.
  5. Time-attentive. The future PR leaders should already be focused on speed and time-attentiveness. From Generation X through the younger generations, instant gratification is required. I mean, we can now order something from Amazon and have it in an hour. An hour! I’ve noticed that Facebook now rewards you for how quickly you respond to direct messages. Our average, right now, is 18 minutes. And they say that’s not fast enough. Timely, thoughtful, and speedy responses—to emails and social media mentions, to changing customer needs, to product innovation—will be a necessity of the future PR leader.

It’s not a small undertaking. Many of the PR industry services have been around for 50 years or more. It really is akin to changing the direction of the Titanic.

But we are here. The future is now. If you want to be a future PR leader or lead your organization into 2020 and beyond, these are the five traits you must embrace now.

image credit: Shutterstock

Gini Dietrich

Gini Dietrich is the founder, CEO, and author of Spin Sucks, host of the Spin Sucks podcast, and author of Spin Sucks (the book). She is the creator of the PESO Model and has crafted a certification for it in partnership with Syracuse University. She has run and grown an agency for the past 15 years. She is co-author of Marketing in the Round, co-host of Inside PR, and co-host of The Agency Leadership podcast.

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